Accountable Beasts

Bill Ward

Aston Cross Music, 2015

REVIEW BY: Ben McVicker


Drummer Bill Ward has led the most eclectic solo career of Black Sabbath’s original members. His debut, Ward One: Along The Way (1990), remains a lost treasure for Sabbath completists that features two songs with Ozzy Osbourne on vocals and other guests such as guitarist Zakk Wylde and fellow drummer Eric Singer. 1997’s When The Bough Breaks, in contrast, is a songwriter's affair that saw Ward focus on vocals and lyrics while leaving the drumming to longtime bandmate Ronnie Ciago. Black Sabbath’s reunion and a series of Ozzfest tours in the 2000s saw his solo career put on hold, with only a charity single in “Straws” released in 2002.

Enter Accountable Beasts. Intended to be a quick side-project, work began on the album in 2008. Between Bill Ward’s perfectionism as an artist and an ugly contract quarrel with Black Sabbath in 2011-2012, the album fell by the wayside and did not resurface until 2015. Five years after its release, it is an interesting one to revisit.

Let’s get the worst part out of the way first: the mix is dreadful. Black Sabbath’s Born Again (1983) was a notoriously muffled mess, but not to the point where it undermined the songs. Whereas the poor mix of Accountable Beasts bogs the album down throughout. Upon its release, Bill Ward spoke of realizing that “most people listen to music on earbuds” nowadays as opposed to stereo speakers, leading him to remix the entire album “on $25 earbuds.” The decision has a sort of Spinal Tap sense about it. Whether listened to on a good pair of headphones or a stereo, Bill's vocals are inaudible at times and his drumming is often lost in a wall of noise. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Time and time again, Bill Ward heaves everything but the kitchen sink into a song. Take the opening number, “Leaf Killers.” A slowly grinding guitar segues to Bill delivering a mix of mumbled words, a little piano run, some falsetto vocals at times backed by a high-pitched soprano who  drowns him out…Oh, how about a bit of synth for good measure? Meanwhile, the guitar keeps plodding along. The song feels much longer than its 4:39 and doesn’t bode well for the rest of the album.

And indeed, the songs with a surplus of musical parts and effects can be a tough listen. The title track has Bill straining for high-pitched reedy vocals to the sound of a love-it-or-hate-it guitar buzz. He spoke of pounding out “16th and 32nd bass drum notes” on the song, but all I can hear are trash cans akin to those on Metallica’s St Anger. Other write-offs include the wandering “First Day Back” and “As It Is In Heaven,” with its irritating tick-tock sound effect throughout. “Straws” holds up well after many years but is better fit for When The Bough Breaks.

Nonetheless, there are moments on Accountable Beasts that highlight the potential contributions that Bill Ward could have made to Black Sabbath’s 13. “Katastrophic World” is by far the strongest song. Dark and somber, it has a great changeup midway through that begs for Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler to add to it. “D.O.T.H.” (Darkest Of The Horses) is a raw ballad in which Ward wears his heart on his sleeve and makes one recall how he contributed “It’s Alright” to Black Sabbath’s Technical Ecstasy. “Ashes” is the heaviest number, with Bill Ward delivering almost tribal beats and the guitar adding to the song as opposed to being buried in the mix.

Drawing the most discussion among fans and interviewers was “The Wall Of Death,” his rebuttal of Black Sabbath bandmates for excluding him from 13. At 10 minutes in length with lyrics ranging from reflection, to pain, to the angry outcry of “Keep the pace, motherfuckers!” the song stands out for what it was in 2013 but could be cut to half the length.

Accountable Beasts is a frustrating album due to the poor mix and occasional overload of musical parts, but is still worth a listen. Unlike the past 25 years’ worth of Ozzy Osbourne albums, it is not at all shallow. It’s very personal and has a surplus of ideas crammed into 42 minutes. And unlike Geezer Butler’s G/Z/R albums, Bill Ward is not afraid to experiment and delivers nine very different songs. It may be the weakest of his three solo albums, but it shows him to be an active songwriter and leaves one wondering what Black Sabbath’s 13 (a great album, make no mistake) would have been like with their original drummer in the lineup.

Rating: C

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